You Don’t Need a Clock, at Havelock!

Posted by on Jan 9, 2014 in Travel Tales | 35 comments

You Don’t Need a Clock, at Havelock!

My first pre-encounter with the islands was in the form of a celestial intervention, cutting across the skies, in layers and hues of gold, violet, tangerine and red. Arriving like a majestic king with pomp and show would. Providing an apparition, letting the audience heave in anticipation, building up to a climax of expectation and then…rising above the skies of the dawn! The sunrise, witnessed through the glass panes of the flight to the islands was a visual treat that will never leave my memory. And truly so, it was the most welcoming sign foraying us into the “Island of Gold”,a nomenclature that was aptly introduced by an Italian traveller, Niccolo di Conti.

I was well prepared with this information that the Andamans were insanely exotic; a haven for seekers of serenity, and was waiting to discover my spot of sweetness in the vacation that was to unfurl in the next four days. This was one time, where I hadn’t planned much, on how we would spend time. I booked us the place to stay at Havelock, pre-booked the ferry tickets from Port Blair to Havelock, and packed sun tan lotion and a swim suit. And then after four days on the island, I realized, that I didn’t miss out on a thing! Not planning what to do, is the only way to plan a holiday here!

Ever had the feeling on visiting a place so pristine, you are almost afraid to share it with the world? Havelock, about 60 km east of Port Blair, is one such place. Uncluttered by ATMs, internet connectivity and mobile signals, here coconut water does not come in tetrapaks. Even the morning newspaper is a luxury. Named after Henry Havelock- a British General in erstwhile pre independent India, Havelock houses one of the most picturesque and serene beach locations in the world. What makes it even more attractive is the slowed pace of life, while providing contrasting options of adventure like snorkelling, scuba and deep sea diving night-fishing , kayaking, jet-skiing, to name a few. This was our one stop destination in the Andamans for the next four days to come.

After the mandatory tour of Cellular Jail, the Anthropological Museum, and a confused, hurried drive around the capital city of Port Blair, we headed to Havelock Island looking forward to an eco-stay, meeting an old classmate of Raj who runs the Dive India Institute and to feel the balming effect of diving. Through out our ferry ride, and through the guide who took us around the cellular jail, we kept hearing about Neil island- another hidden jewel in the archipelago.Like characters from a classic Victorian saga, Neil is apparently the lesser known but more intriguing stepbrother of Havelock, the flamboyant aristocrat who hosts extravagant parties on its fabulous tropical estate. Havelock and Neil are spoken of like salt and pepper, but they are just as different in flavour. While Havelock is a bustling tourist hub nowadays, Neil is still a sleepy corner of the earth where even time decides to dawdle and often slows down to a stop…pretty much how Havelock had been ten years back, we were told. Well, Neil, if not anything else, calls us then for our next visit!

Vacation

Road to Kalapathar

Solitude at Kalapathar

Kalapathar

Havelock Jetty

Flying Elephant Lobby

Flying Elephant Hut-Way

Flying Elephant Patio

Beachside at Kalapathar

3 hours in the ferry, a rickety auto drive from the Havelock Jetty, through canopies of tall deciduous forest trees, and an azure shoreline continuously distracting us on  our left, we arrive at Kalapathar Beach.  Tucked away deep in the lush jungles of the Andaman Islands,  Canadian born Julia (now Prema), and her German husband now hindutized to Prem Das, run this yoga retreat, that is  located on the edge of a strip of dense hilly tropical forest , that separates it from the ocean beyond. Concrete stilts raise the building above damp tropical earth while negotiating the sloping terrain . Unfinished tree trunks serving as columns mimic the massive trees outside, bringing the forest into the living space. A single pathway of jointed wooden planks banks a  linear collection of thatched huts oriented to gain maximum exposure to the forest ; while allowing for excellent cross ventilation in hot humid tropical conditions. The restrooms are without a roof, with brass buckets and tumblers and fixtures, providing a complete rustic feel. Through the opening between the walled partition and a partial covering that serves as a roof, beams through happy sunshine and the heady smell of the forest. The young and vivacious Shefali takes care of housekeeping needs, greets guests and visitors with warmth and an infectious, vibrant smile. She also fiercely protects her husband’s afternoon siesta! Her husband, the effervescent and talkative  ‘Chef’ Nirmal prepares the most delicious home-made pasta at the restauarnt, 30 paces away, carrying the same name. You wake up to the punctual cock-a-doodling of roosters and the sweet serenading of the ‘kokeel‘. The windows in the huts, fly out instead of opening out. There is a quaint little desk outside in the patio, where you can muse and stare into open paddy fields. And of course there is no TV, mobile signals or the internet! Here, you walk to a slower pace of life, with the soft rhythms of the sea never far away. Welcome to the Flying Elephant!

Tarak Pyke, the energetic auto rickshaw driver we hired from the Havelock jetty to drop us to The Fyling Elephant was the first of the Bengalis we met on the island. After that, there was no one ….who wasn’t a Bengali! A third generation Bengali, born an brought up on the island, his grandfather had migrated to Kolkata from Faridpur district of East Pakistan in 1960 and was resettled in Havelock under a rehabilitation program initiated by the Indian government. Bengali ‘settlers’ in Havelock reaped great harvests from the fertile land – the income from the betel nuts, coconuts & paddy harvested annually was enough deterrent for them to seek any job as such! Here is a slice of history, a module that most history text books don’t include as a chapter:

In 1947, India was partitioned in name of Ram and Rahim. The erstwhile East Pakistan (today’s Bangladesh) had kicked out its non-Muslim population to West Bengal … the same story happened in West Pakistan also. The main gateways to Calcutta, Howrah station and Sealdah station were then completely under control of lakhs of refugees from East Pakistan, Calcutta was overcrowded by them, all had lost their everything overnight, and became street beggars, platform beggars of the city of Calcutta. Lakhs of them. Thousands of them died, but Calcutta remained overcrowded. The newly formed Center of Independent India, New Delhi proposed the Bengal Government to utilize less populated Andaman islands for settlements of those displaced Bengalis. Had that been done, Andaman would have been another Bengali state of India! But the then Chief Minister Bidhan Chandra Roy opposed to this idea. Bengalis will not go anywhere. All off them will be accommodated in West Bengal only.Sure. But those ill-fated refugees were not accommodated in West Bengal. They were sent to Dandakaranya in Orissa. They could not survive there. Some crossed waters to reach Marich-Jhapi in the Sundarbans, but the political unrest wouldn’t allow them to rest there for long. Whatever, the bottom line is, in this chaotic political situation, many of the uprooted Bengalis from East Pakistan dared to cross the Kalapani, this time on their own wish, and settle down in different islands in Andaman. They got full support from the Indian Government. That’s why the majority here are Bengalis. There are also Telugus, Tamils, Malayalis, but they are not “settlers” in that sense.

The other bottomline that needs to be derived from this fact is that the best cuisine in the island is the Bengali cuisine. But creative and business driven that the ‘settlers’ are, they have quickly turned around the original recipes to stuff that will suit the foreigner’s palate. For example each Bengali way side kitchen in Havelock serves fish in either an Indian style or a Continental style. The Indian style of ‘Fish in Banana Leaf’ is marinated with Indian essential spices like turmeric, coriander,cumin,red chilli and asafoetida  and garam masala, while the western version will have a cream sauce, cheese,or a lemon, ginger and soya dressing before it gets steamed in the plantain leaf. Clever, isn’t it? Worth mentioning here is the ‘Welcome Restuarant’ at the market hub in  Havelock, run by Lalita and Tapan. My fare was simple here. Perfect phulkas with a devilish egg curry , and crabs that were moving live in a tank, brought transformed orange, cooked in a spicy masala, smelling divine!

Steamed Fish

Fresh Crabs

Food aside, there were two highlights of our trip. Actually three.Actually four!

The first was scuba diving. How do you put in words the experience of the first scuba dive? Well, surreal. Although not a sniffer of adventure, naturally, I realise that I have done some intersting stuff earlier: paragliding, trying to fly a plane, white water rafting, parasailing, trekking, rapelling..but scuba diving would be different from everything else. In every other activity I was breathing through my nose and in this one, under the sea, I will, with a cylinder!  Do you remember the song Sebastian the Crab in Disney’s The Little Mermaid sang as a dedication to the petite mermaid, when she was wanting to go stay with the humans?  ‘Under the sea,since life is sweet here, we got the beat here naturally!
Among the little superstars we spotted, the villain was the sea-snake… a majestic silver white and midnight blue banded graceful creature, that twirled its way towards the surface, after alluring us to follow its 1.5 meters of gliding horizontally. Then, of course there was Nemo, the famous clownfish from the movie.  Like Sebastian says, under the sea its all glorious music- “The newt play the flute,the carp play the harp,the plaice play the bass..and they soundin’ sharp! The bass play the brass,the chub play the tub,the fluke is the duke of soul.. the ray he can play,the lings on the strings,the trout rockin’ out,the blackfish she sings! “My feelings exactly! I came out to the surface, a revitalized soul, happy to hear the unheard music of the sea and the sound of my own breathing.

Kayaking in mangroves

Hues in Twilight

Second was kayaking. The lovely and vivacious Tanaaz, along with her brother Shiraz led us into creeks and water trails in the back and beyond of the island. The lush, green mangroves of the archipelago comprise of 1/5th of India’s total mangrove cover. Kayaking through the creeks, absorbing the wide panorama of the seascape in front of us, wantingly getting distracted by the hues the sky was seducing us with, was perhaps one of the most relaxing and peaceful ways to be immersed in introspection.

Paddling

Reflection

There were places, where the reflection in the still water ahead of us, was teasing us- making it difficult to agree that it was merely a reflection, and not the real sky that I see on the glassy water. Amazing, how muscles and joints in our shoulders and biceps did not cry in revolt, after the 1.5 hour of swindling our peddles!

Havelock

Havelock-2

Havelock-5

Havelock-6

The third was Radhanagar Beach. Yes, of course, it was voted the Best Beach in Asia by the Time Magazine. Yes, it has the most spectacular hues of blue and green in the Andaman sea. And of course, the sand is white as chalk, and soft as a feather. The sun scattered gold dust on the sea, which spread like an unending ream of turquoise silk, seamlessly blending into deeper hues. Imagining one was still travelling vicariously, the scene is picture perfect – a beach with crystal clear waters fringed by trees and baby soft sands with an unbroken symphony of waves playing in the background. Not the sea, or the sand, my highlight was the woods, that fringed the beach. A wood, in which the floor was a carpet of fallen leaves with colours reminding me of a season I miss the most- Fall! Ginger, turmeric, saffron, paprika and honey coloured leaves made loud whispers and shuffles, as I strolled along the uncharted trail, guarded dauntingly by trees almost 3-4 storeys in height. An elephant looked like an little kitten, in comparison, and a man , a dwarf. What a spectacular sight to take in. The magnanimity of the panorama rendered me speechless. I made a cozy corner resting against a stump of a tree, with the view of the sea to my right, and the enormity of the forest to my left. 2 hours of bliss, the music of the sea, an unfinished book being completed, and  I couldn’t help but leave a piece of my soul there, when I came back!

Elephant in the woods

Man in the woods

And the fourth: Mariam.Mariam was like no other I have met before. Someone so completely uninhibited, in practicing both, in doing everything her wild spirit demands, and not giving a damn about the consequences. She came across as a refreshing gulp of free energy almost worthy of respect and adulation. A diving instructor in her current avatar, we couldn’t find a single unconventional job she hasn’t tried her hand at! The Full Moon Cafe at the Dive India Institute is a melting pot and the nerve center of the island. A beautiful open air restuarant serving great food, provides you opportunities to mix, choose and mingle with like-minded or aspirational people, in some cases. Miriam was one of the latter! One evening with her left me in awe. Gasping awe!

IMG_4534

In the blue of the next dawn, we spent some moments at our own Kalapathar beach. As the sun rose to horizon, it was a wake up call to reality. We left the island, only with a promise. Promise to be back.

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35 Comments

  1. Beautiful pictures Sambrita…such vibrant hues of blues and greens…and yes, do keep up your new year resolution…”promise to be back” in more ways than one:-)

  2. Beautifully written….could visualise the whole thing and that’s the best thing about a good travelogue…lovely descriptions and pics….

  3. The writing is very informative, visual & well wrtten.I could almost walk through some of the places.

  4. Wonderfully written Sam. You have captured the pristine nature of the island. Having read your wonderful description, I hope the place is as good as it is decsribed:):):)

  5. Hey Sambrita, lovely pics ! Looks like it was a pristine get away from the hustle and bustle of normal daily life. You have captured the serenity and intrinsic beauty of the place very well in your write-up!

  6. Absolutely brilliant writing. The place comes to life in your mind, along with associated feelings, and the pace of life. I like the addition of the slice of history and the foray into the cuisine too. Travelogues are notoriously difficult to write – but this piece just flows, making it look easy.

  7. Lovely, Sambrita. I have sand between my toes after reading that. We almost did Havelock for our honeymoon, and then didn’t. So it’s still on our list. And given that it’s our anniversary tomorrow, your post comes sweetly timed.

  8. Oh, happy anniversary to you two ! If you guys haven’t already, you absolutely MUST visit Havelock. And if you do, take some time to stay at the Niel island as well. I hear great reviews on it!
    Thanks for stopping by here, Pia. I am resuming writing here after almost a 6 month hiatus!
    Read your post on Rome. So beautiful! One of my favourite cities, too. But what I really marveled at is Raya’s ability to put things in such a lateral perspective! That girl is going to make you proud(prouder!) one day…wait and watch!

  9. It means a lot, this compliment coming from such a pro, Dinesh! Thanks for all the kind words.
    I am promising myself to be more regular on this space, than last year. I had paused in July last year, and then resuming it this year was such a wonderful feeling that I would now really like to keep up the pace. Next stop is the Rann of Kutch. That post comes out in Feb!

  10. Thank you Beena.
    Just the fact that this comes from you, makes my day!

  11. Really appreciate you stopping by and taking the time to leave your thoughts on my blog, Jayesh.
    Thanks much!
    And yes, the place will absolutely live up to the description, and more.. I am more than confident that my descriptions will not punch me back a red-glove on my own face! 🙂

  12. Thank you Ma!

  13. You two should go there Runsie.. its so laid back.. you will love it!

  14. Thanks for the compliments, Pallavi. Just that there is probably no medium that can ACTUALLY capture the essence and beauty of the place. Mine is just a mere attempt.
    Appreciate you stopping by on my blog to leave your thoughts.
    And, yes… “I will be back”! Arnold- style! 🙂

  15. You write so well Sambrita. Wonderful blog. I loved the pictures. Fluent and so descriptive.

  16. Thanks Seema! Am glad you liked it…

  17. Khub sundor….khub khub bhalo

  18. Re-read again…Feel like , I will fly there, to “Eat, Pray and Workout”…:)

  19. The pictures say it all . What you have additionally scripted is icing on the cake. Did not realise that such a wonderful place existed in our own backyard !
    Do keep up your New year resolution and i promise to have Macher-jhol with you !
    Regards
    Rao

  20. The place , I cannot say, is any more ‘undiscovered’. But there are still corners and nooks on the island which will give you the feeling that you own it!
    Thank you Rao, for the encouragement!
    And absolutely welcome to share my plate of maacher-jhol! 🙂

  21. Thanks Tun! You can also “Eat, Pray, and Do Nothing”!

  22. Loved your writing, Sambrita…..you write very well! Now you have inspired me to make a trip to the Andamans. I enjoyed looking at your blog too! You should write a book too.

  23. Thank you so much Sunil. Really appreciate you dropping in to read my posts. Thanks for all your kind words. Writing a book, however..not very far from it! Will talk about it in detail later:-)

  24. It’s like god sat down to describe his work…! Wowww!!! Sambrita you are gifted…

  25. Thank you Tej. Am glad you liked it!

  26. One of the best articles I have read after long 🙂 Thanks for a refreshing read .

  27. Thank you Sritama!

  28. Beautifully written! Your description is so vivid and full of life.

    The night at the Radhanagar beach truly knocks the breath out – the sky also is so beautiful 🙂

    Now that you’ve been under the water and are a ‘fellow diver’ – if you want to dive again – let’s talk 🙂 🙂

  29. Thank you so much Nasser! Happy that you stopped by to read!
    You are a pro diver, my friend…u could make out that that diving is your passion…and you are quite an expert! Cinque looked fabulous…! Let’s talk about this, for sure..cos am sure I am gonna do it again!

  30. sambrita…came to ur blog to read the Rann article but to be v honest fell in love with this one…ur pics are really fabulous. Not to say the Rann one isn’t (or for that matter, any of the others!) but i couldnt tear myself away from the (visual) blues n greens of this travelogue.
    sharing ur blog on my page for friends who are wanderers…:-)

  31. Thank you thank you Ishani!

  32. Hello sambrita A nice description of Havelock… I would love to share more pictures with you of my trip to havelock. Especially that fallen tree at kalapatthar beach brings me memories of my visit. 🙂

  33. Thank you very much, Ashutosh!
    Absolutely ..let me know where your pictures are posted. Would love to see it!

  34. Hi Sambrita,

    We visited havelock last week on our honeymoon..ur article just took us there once again!!!! Nice read and photograhs tooo….

  35. Thanks Sandeep!

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